Do you think that writing a novel length story is tough? Well, try taking that 60,000, 85,000, 100,000 or more words and reducing it down to a mere 500 words, or even down to 120 words! That’s definitely a writer’s Seventh Level of Hell.
Editors call it a synopsis, one of a mere two to five pages in length.
They want it to hit all the high points in the story, explain the character’s motivation and how they achieve the goal and, if it’s a murder mystery, whodunit, and the how and the why of doing it, and how the perpetrator tripped up and the sleuth caught them.
Oh, and they want it to sound interesting.
To reflect the “voice” used in the manuscript.
Can’t you just hear Satan chuckling over all these little “musts”? Bet he’s rubbing his hands in glee knowing what an easy sale this could well be – exchanging a Zowie synopsis in exchange for, oh, I don’t know, your soul? Some days that might sound like a pretty sweet deal. At least one difficult to resist.
But, you know, it doesn’t end there. There’s that query letter to write when you turn tempter of editors and consolidate the story into a single paragraph. Fortunately, this paragraph doesn’t have to give away all the wrap up details and can act as a bit of a cliff hanger. Tell just enough to hook the editor or agent.
And if you’re an Independent publisher, then it’s this brief paragraph that is the cover blurb, the description for the story that is posted when you load it to whatever print venue used for POD (many use CreateSpace, I use Lulu), or when the e-book version goes up at Amazon, Nook, and other places.
So, what’s the check list?
- Tell enough of the story to tempt the reader (be they editor, agent, or purchasing public)
- Specify not only the genre but the specific genre niche, and not do it by saying “a paranormal romance” or “a political fantasy adventure” (which is what GAME OF THRONES is). Instead, SHOW that it is a story in this genre. Save the niche label for the Keywords.
- Give the main character or characters a touch of personality
- Write the entire thing in present tense (hardest part for me as I write the story in past tense because, well, if I’m recounting it, it already happened, right?)
- Format it for double space, 1” margins, 12pt type font, and keep it to no longer than two pages (or possibly five pages)
- And now for the toughest part – make the voice clear in the blurb, query paragraph, and/or synopsis!
Not long ago I was attempting to consolidate a 100,000-word urban fantasy comedy mystery adventure (yes, let’s see how many keywords we can work into this one, hmm?) into a two-page synopsis. It was the dullest thing I’d ever written.
Oh, sure, it gave the high points, explained the most major things (tough when there was a secondary storyline/case), told how it all came together in two pages, and was in 12 pt, double-spaced glory.
And ditchwater was more exciting. I sure the heck wouldn’t have picked the story up to read based on what I’d written.
There was nothing in this run through that indicated the narrator was a wise-cracking, sarcastic, competent, experienced dude with some newly developed insecurities chipping away at his confidence. I.E. there was not a lick of VOICE coming through, and as his personality was a large part of the who, what, and whys of the story played out, that weren’t the way it needed to go, pilgrim.
Back to the drawing board. This time I decided to try something different, something all the books, articles, workshop presenters, editors, agents, and fellow writers said to never, never, NEVER ever do.
I rewrote the synopsis from scratch in first person rather than third person.
I let my magic wielding P.I. ramble his way through it.
The first run was far longer than two pages. Well, in 3rd person it had been too, I’d simply been ruthless in cutting it back down to two-pages. This time I identified phrases that indicated Bram’s speech patterns, his turns of phrase, his grabbing a cliché and making it personal and indicative of the geographical location in which the story plays out. For instance, because the landscape is Detroit, Michigan, at least once he says, “Was up Battle Creek without a paddle.” He’s not out canoeing at the time. THAT was VOICE. That is what I needed.
But this dratted synopsis needed to be in 3rd person.
It needed to be rewritten.
And it was, incorporating some of that voice. It still sounded a touch dull to me, but then I was used to being Bram, not just talking about what he did for a living, you know, like have adventures, avoid death, solve a crime. Things I did, as him, from the safety of my keyboard.
Now, that’s what happened when the story was written in first person. But prior to this, my stories had all been in third person presentation. You’d think that would make writing the synopsis easier.
Ha, ha, ha!
So not true.
Here finding the voice of the piece is quite different, and it changes depending on type of story being told.
I’ve written a lot of romantic-comedy – both for the adult romance marketplace and for the young adult one. But I also spin tales of historical romantic adventure, frequently with mystery woven in, and comedy takes a back seat when I do.
This means there are two entirely different approaches taken when writing these synopses and query paragraphs.
Wondering what they are? Well, there’s one very good way to find out. Spend a week with me here at Savvy in the “Wrestling Voice into a Synopsis” workshop. It’s a scant 7 days long with postings five of those days and challenges that I hope attendees see as gauntlets to pick up. The best way to get something out of a workshop is, after all, to participate. It runs September 11 through the 17th.
Comfortable clothing is the suggested attire as wrestling with story details and forcing voice into the synopsis consolidation can be a strenuous business!
Beth Daniels is practically a workshop presenting fixture at Savvy Authors, having been among the first instructors waiting for students in one of the virtual classrooms back in 2010 when they threw the doors open. Her first three published books were in the making and remaking stages for over ten years before she landed a publishing contract. NIKROVA’S PASSION hit the shelves in May 1990 and since then another 28 titles followed it into publication, under a variety of pseudonyms. Currently she writes under three fake names (Beth Henderson, J.B. Dane, and Nied Darnell) and also under her own name with non-fiction titles about writing fiction and college level essays. Her agent is currently stuck with the job of finding homes for an historical romantic mystery, a Steampunk adventure, and the first title in the urban fantasy mentioned in the babbling above. Visit her at www.RomanceAndMystery2.com, www.Muse2Ms.com, or www.WritingSteampunk.com.
Join her on Twitter @BethDaniels1, @Beth__Henderson, or @JBDaneWriter, and on Facebook at BethHendersonAuthor. Stop by her Pinterest boards at Writing Genre Fiction, Rory’s Closet, and The Well Inked Quill.
Paul Montgomery’s dreams are of music, of writing it as well as performing. His journey takes him from covering Beatle songs for high school dances in the mid-1960s to being acclaimed for his diversity in the world of rock ‘n’ roll. Particularly for composing a library of love songs. With sold out concerts around the world, singles and albums that repeatedly go gold then platinum, and innovative music videos on MTV, he seems to lead a charmed life. At least, professionally. Along the way there is tragedy: the loss of a friend to the Viet Nam war, the attempt to save a fellow rocker from her drug addiction, but it is winning and losing the only woman he’s ever loved – twice – that is a never healing wound in his heart.
For Aurora Chambers, it is the world of fashion that beckons. A scholarship for a summer design program in London is a carrot even her love for Paul can’t best. Hurt by his seeming denigrating of her aspirations, she throws herself into the heart of Carnaby Street in 1967, and the arms of her instructor, Trevor Harris, a self-serving man who plans to use her talent as his stepping stone to better things. Unaware of Paul’s continuing love for her, Rory binds her future to Trevor’s. It is a step she soon learns to regret though it does bring her career success beyond her previous dreams. With a clothing line that repeatedly wins accolades on the catwalks, she has only one stumbling block. Her designs all carry Trevor’s name, not her own. Aurora must marshal some of Trevor’s own devious traits to take back what is hers. Secretly, she follows Paul’s rise through the music trades, occasionally mourning the loss of what they’d had. When a second chance at happiness with him appears, she grabs it. And nearly destroys them both.
Because, sometimes love simply isn’t enough.